Memory Lane: Hangman’s Tree

Follow me down Memory Lane, where they can’t find us.

I’m going to take you into Edgar Woods, the forest that grew right next to our neighborhood, right up against the playground. Woods and playground have been torn down, paved over, and made to be as if they never existed but in dreams. But in my memory they’re safe; the orcs can’t touch them there.

We turn off the main path to a crystal spring that bubbles up from clayey soil–cold water that everyone around here drinks, and I never heard of anyone getting sick from it. We are not very far into the woods; faintly, you  can still hear the clink of horseshoes from the playground.

The spring feeds a little brook, and we’ll follow it along its left bank, deeper into the woods. On the right bank the ground is wet and swampy, with lots of skunk cabbage. There are frogs in the water. Here we have another path which will take us to a blue house that stands all alone in the woods, but we’re not going there today.

By and by the brook peters out, but the path continues. Now we can’t hear anything but birds and squirrels. It would seem strange, today, to be at any place where you can’t hear cars and trucks. But not here, not now.

Unexpectedly, the path breaks into a clearing. And there stands Hangman’s Tree, probably the biggest, tallest tree in the county. The other trees, and the underbrush, keep a respectful distance from it. It’s big and black and very, very high. Kid legend has it that this used to be the hanging tree for several towns.

If you can climb any distance up this tree, the view will take your breath away. If the air were clear enough, you might see your way to Spain. Micro-trucks on the highway, micro-boats on the river, the mirror-sheen on the water where the river widens into the bay–it’s easy to lose track of the time when you’re way up there.

Leading out of the clearing, through a stand of sticker-bushes–the whole woods is full of wild blackberries, all you can eat for free–is Soldier’s Path, a mysterious cinder path that will eventually lead you to a sweet little village which has been torn down and paved over for another highway. Other paths will take you out to a bamboo field that marks the boundary of Edgar Woods.

Come up with me, up into Hangman’s Tree, and together we can look for Portugal. Don’t worry about falling. It’s my memory landscape and I will undertake to keep you safe.

I think I want to stay up here for a while.

9 comments on “Memory Lane: Hangman’s Tree

  1. Wow, fascinating. I want to go. I love the gnarly tree picture, too. I will have to read this one again.

  2. This sounds so much like a place from my childhood, too. My uncle built his home on a 50-acre plot of land he had purchased right after WWII from a farmer who wanted $600 cash. Imagine getting 50 acres for $600!

    Anyway, we grew up in that house and on that land where there were wild strawberries, blackberries, elderberries – all we could eat! We also had a crystal clear brook that ran through the land. We loved wading in it. The rocks were so smooth and the salamanders played. What a wonderful, peaceful place. No sidewalks and no paved roads. We had outdoor plumbing and an outhouse for a time, too. But it, too, has since been parceled out and tracts of homes built up . . . sigh.

    But the hangman’s tree reminded me of a song our elders used to sing: “The Old Apple Tree In The Orchard’. Who knows, it may even be on youtube. In the song, Pappy wound up in that tree.

  3. I think I just got a glimpse into the inspiration for Lintum Forest.

    When I was a kid, there was a small forest nearby, and we used to play there in the summertime. I don’t remember us ever calling it anything but “the woods”. It’s still there, at least as of last May. I wonder if the children of this era still visit there.

  4. There were orange groves all around where I grew up – so beautiful. Every year the migrant workers would show up at harvest time chattering in Spanish. But then the land became too valuable for the establishing residential homes so the groves began to disappear. Today, good luck trying to find even one orange tree in Orange County, CA.

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